D. Carleton Gajdusek’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1976
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen, and Specifically,
Fellow Students! – if I may be granted by you the privilege of calling myself and the other Prize Winners and Prize Givers students, like yourselves! Yet, I warn you that if you do not grant me the privilege you may doom yourselves to a disillusioned maturity and lonely old age as the next generation follows your example.
Here in Sweden we seem to find ourselves back in an old traditional culture, as in the South Pacific, where youth and so-called maturity and old age can still share a complex ritual of initiation or investiture without reciprocal condemnations. Your participation in these tribal rites tonight seems to signify your willingness to take part in the cultural experiment we call our civilization without trying to deny your heritage. You would not yet admit, I hope, the infallibility of its beliefs, goals, and methods.
You make me aware of how thoroughly we here have shared a privileged nurture not granted to most of the world’s populations: a leisure, and a plenty, a freedom, an education, and a cultural tradition which encourages and permits us to play the game of the quest for truth and the satisfaction of our curiosity on a grand scale.
May yours be the generation that brings the possibility of playing this magnificent game to all mankind. Yet, may you share with me the sense of uneasiness about our ability to maintain the delicate social order which such pursuits of the truth require without destroying the wonderful human diversity of form, language, and culture still present in the world in this Century. The very truths our successful quests unfold lead to changes that tend to reduce the Community of Man to one frighteningly homogeneous cosmopolitan World Culture, which may deny us even the possibility of imagining the repertoire of the cultural alternatives open to Man.
We must leave to you the wise use of the arts and sciences which will disseminate their benefits to all peoples. May you accomplish this without bringing to extinction the many cultural varieties in the Condition of Man on which his happiness, his search for beauty, and even his survival may depend.